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In this photo taken on Sunday, April 17, 2016, migrants ask for help from a dinghy as they are approached by the SOS Mediterranee's ship Aquarius, background, off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa. (Photo: Patrick Bar/SOS Mediterranee via AP)

When We Mourn the Passing of Prince But Not 500 Migrants, We Have to Ask: Have We Lost All Sense of Perspective?

Could not one of those dead children among the five hundred souls on the sinking Mediterranean boat become a ‘superstar’?

Robert Fisk

 by The Independent

Has something gone adrift within the moral compass of our ‘news’ reporting?  In the past week, 64 Afghans have been killed in the largest bomb to have exploded in Kabul in 15 years.  At least 340 were wounded.  The Taliban set off their explosives at the very wall of the ‘elite’ security force – watch out for that word ‘elite’ – which was supposed to protect the capital.  Whole families were annihilated.  No autopsies for them.  Local television showed an entire family – a mother and father and three children blown to pieces in a millisecond – while the city’s ambulance service reported that its entire fleet (a miserable 15 vehicles) were mobilised for the rescue effort.  One ambulance was so packed with wounded that the back doors came off their hinges.

But Prince also died this week.

Now Afghanistan is the country to which we and our EU partners are happily returning refugees on the grounds that Kabul and its surrounding provinces are “safe”.  It is, of course, a lie – as flagrant and potentially as bloody as the infamous weapons of mass destruction we claimed were in Iraq in 2003.  By then, we had already promised the Afghans – in 2001 – that we wouldn’t let them down.  We wouldn’t forget them as we did after the Soviet war.  A Blair promise, of course, and thus worthless.

There was another story on Afghan television last week, which carried its own dark implications for the future.  A young man called Sabour was convicted of murdering two American advisers and told the court that he had absolutely no regrets.  Afghan social media began to fill with comments in support of the man.  He was “a real Afghan,” said one.  “A true Afghan.”  So much for Afghanistan and its utterly corrupt government and our continued claim that we support this bogus administration and that our advisers are there to produce, well, not ‘Jeffersonian democracy” – as the Americans coyly admitted in 2003 – but at least stability.

But Prince also died this week.

Then there was the latest Mediterranean catastrophe.  Up to 500 refugees and migrants were believed to have drowned after refugees from a small vessel sailing out of Libya were transferred onto a larger boat on which Egyptians, Ethiopians, Somalis and Sudanese were traveling.  The survivors were landed in Greece, some having seen their families drown.  But there were no pictures of the sinking.  No autopsies for them, of course.  No dead little Aylan Kurdis were washed up on a soft beach for the cameras.  They simply drifted straight down to the depths of the ocean to join the other thousands of skeletons who never made it to Europe.  Do not reflect that five hundred lives is almost exactly one third the total passenger deaths on the Titanic.  Do not mention that another million human beings are likely to choose this Mediterranean passage now that we are closing the straits between Greece and Turkey.

Because Prince died this week.

No, I don’t begrudge those who mourn this brilliant musician and the social revolution he represented.  The ‘Purple Rain’ ‘superstar’ also had fans across the Middle East.  There are Arab Facebooks aplenty today expressing their sorrow at his death.  But I do wonder if we are going too far.  When network television presenters are expressing their condolences to the mayor of Minneapolis and the Eiffel Tower has turned purple, there must surely come a time when we ask ourselves if our sense of priorities has not lost all perspective.  Could not one of those three dead children in Kabul have become a ‘Prince’?  Or the children among the five hundred souls on the sinking Mediterranean boat?  Could not he or she have become a ‘superstar’?  How about a few presenters expressing their sorrow for their deaths, too?  The colour would be black instead of purple, of course.  The Eiffel Tower lights would have to be switched off. 

But this will not happen.  Because ‘Prince’ died this week.


© 2016 The Independent
Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk

Robert Fisk (1946-2020) was a writer and journalist who held British and Irish citizenship and was Middle East correspondent for The Independent newspaper. He was the author of many books on the region, including "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East" (2007) and "Robert Fisk on Afghanistan: Osama Bin Laden: 9/11 to Death in Pakistan" (2016).

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